Irrepressible Sundowns outclass Pirates as they return to the Premiership summit
Benni McCarthy must be the most frustrated man this side of the Equator after watching title rivals Mamelodi Sundowns dig deep to outclass Orlando Pirates at Orlando Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
After a goalless first half‚ the classy Brazilians stepped up a gear in the second period to comfortably beat Pirates 3-0 in a game that showcased the Pretoria side's abundance of talent in their ranks.
The result ensured that Sundowns returned to the Premiership summit and dimmed McCarthy and AmaZulu's hopes of staying at the top beyond this weekend after beating KwaZulu-Natal rivals Lamontville Golden Arrows on Saturday.
Pirates had held their own against the champions for 56 minutes of this enthralling league encounter and McCarthy's side AmaZulu would have been the biggest beneficiaries had his former club managed to hold Sundowns to a draw‚ or forced a win at home.
But things suddenly unravelled for the Bucs in the 55th minute when referee Luxolo Badi ruled that Innocent Maela had handled the ball inside the area and awarded a crucial penalty to the visitors‚ which ultimately proved to be the turning point of this match.
Captain Ricardo Nascimento made no mistake from the spot and beat Pirates goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands with a well-taken kick that opened the flood gates in the 56th minute.
The buildup to the goal would have made the Sundowns coaching trio of Manqoba Mngqithi‚ Rulani Mokwena and Steve Komphela proud as Pirates lost the ball in the middle of the park and after Themba Zwane found Aubrey Modiba on the other side of the pitch‚ the Downs man did well to pick out Peter Shalulile inside the area with a perfect pass.
The elusive Shalulile did well to control the ball with his chest and after giving several black and white shirts the slip‚ the Namibian turned and fired home a volley that struck Maela's hand. Badi immediately pointed to the spot and Sundowns were well on their way.
The comedy of errors in that Pirates rearguard continued unabated in the 75th minute when captain Thulani Hlatshwayo and Sandilands contrived to gift Sundowns a second goal that effectively wrapped up the match for the visitors.
Sandilands put his own defenders under pressure when he rolled the ball to Ntsikelelo Nyauza just meters away from the goalmouth and as he tried to get himself out of trouble‚ he passed it to Hlatshwayo‚ who himself was caught in no man's land.
A hesitant Hlatshwayo tried to get rid of the ball but it was intercepted by Gift Motupa‚ who passed the neatly gift-wrapped present to a grateful Shalulile. The Sundowns striker did not need a second invitation and proceeded to punish the hapless Pirates‚ scoring his 10th strike of the season in the process.
But the incredibly generous Pirates were not done and continued to hand out gifts to a grateful Sundowns.
Nyauza conceded a free-kick on the edge of the area and Lyle Lakay thanked him ever so kindly when he curled the ball around the Pirates defensive wall to beat Sandilands for the third time on the afternoon.
Sundowns cruised to the final whistle and regained the No1 spot on the standings‚ displacing AmaZulu from the premiership summit.
Mngqithi said he was pleased that Sundowns picked themselves up to beat Pirates away from home after a tight first half.
"We could have done better and I believe there were some opportunities that were not utilised properly‚" he said.
Pirates coach Josef Zinnbauer bemoaned the chances they created in the first half.
"We had a lot of possibilities‚ but not so clear‚" he said.
The Brazilians now have a one point lead over AmaZulu‚ but with two games in hand.
McCarthy and his second-placed AmaZulu will now have it all to do as he continues to chase the rampant Sundowns‚ hoping they slip up in the remaining matches.
The rout had not appeared to be on the cards in the first half as the two sides cancelled each other out as the game plunged into a battle of tactical wits.
But Sundowns had other ideas and punished the Bucs after several mistakes in the back.